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Q&A: An Expert Explains How to Respond to Coronavirus in the Most Vulnerable Parts of the World

Photo by Asafuzzaman Captain/CARE Bangladesh

Photo by Asafuzzaman Captain/CARE Bangladesh

Photo by Asafuzzaman Captain/CARE Bangladesh

CARE President and CEO Michelle Nunn sits down with CARE’s Director of Humanitarian Planning, Camille Davis, to discuss how CARE is mobilizing resources, coordinating logistics, and leading a global response to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has stoked worry and anxiety about our health, the health of our loved ones, the interruptions to our children’s education, and so much more. As it spreads, the dangers outbreaks pose will be magnified for the nearly 168 million people around the world already in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Conflict, inadequate conditions in displacement settings, and constrained resources are likely to increase the need for additional support and funding.

Around the world, CARE is fighting for those most vulnerable, including those who live in crowded refugee camps or in poor, rural communities without access to sanitation. CARE President and CEO Michelle Nunn sat down with CARE’s Director of Humanitarian Planning, Camille Davis, who is mobilizing resources, coordinating logistics, and leading the way for CARE’s global response to COVID-19.

Michelle Nunn: First of all, thank you for all that you’re doing. Would you start by giving us a portrait of CARE’s main concerns amid COVID-19 right now?
Camille Davis: [CARE] shares the same concerns as everyone else facing this crisis, but we’re also particularly concerned about the people that [CARE] serves every day, the vulnerable populations that are not as well equipped to withstand this crisis. There are over 70 million displaced people in the world right now – internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers – that don’t have the ability to stockpile food and hunker down and wait for this to blow over. We’re really concerned about what some are calling the next wave, which is when [the coronavirus] starts to take hold in poor countries with weak health systems or where there are already major humanitarian crises happening. We know that we need to act fast. There’s a really small window of opportunity to prevent the worst from happening and mitigate the effects of this virus in the communities that we work to support every day.


MN: As you think about CARE’s assets and our ability to respond, what are the most important things that are enabling CARE to be on the frontlines and to really take on this challenge?
CD: CARE is really well positioned to help communities fight this. CARE has been doing this humanitarian work for 75 years starting with the first CARE packages in 1945. We now have a presence in over 100 countries, and we’ve created really strong partnerships with communities in these countries, which means we can reach people. A critical piece of this response is simply spreading the word and helping communities prepare and CARE has established networks that can facilitate this message very quickly. We also have existing programs, many of which are focused on health and hygiene, which we can bolster and expand with specific programming on COVID-19. Lastly, we have learnings from CARE’s response to other public health emergencies, including cholera in Yemen and Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we’ve seen really great success and can apply to our coronavirus response.

MN: I was struck by my conversation with CARE’s Country Director of Palestine West Bank and Gaza where she said CARE was the first to respond to COVID-19 in the region. Can you explain what that looks like on-the-ground? How does CARE respond quickly?
CD: There are a few pillars to our global response, the first being community engagement and I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. This includes risk communication, sharing signs and symptoms [of COVID-19], hygiene promotion, and other messages shared with us by the CDC and the WHO. Another is providing water through emergency water trucking and water storage to areas where it’s scarce, and providing soap where soap is limited. We also want to support health systems by educating about the virus, preventing the spread, and providing supplies such as masks, gloves, and protective gear for those on the frontline. In Ethiopia, we are providing hygiene materials such as soap and detergents to vulnerable households and we’re taking a house-to-house distribution approach and hope to reach 10,000 people. In Northeast Syria, we are providing water tanks, running disinfection campaigns, and constructing hand-washing facilities and water storage tanks. We hope to reach around 17,000 people through that initiative.

There’s a really small window of opportunity to prevent the worst from happening.

Camille Davis

70+ million displaced people in the world

MN: Can you talk about some of the challenges or obstacles to COVID-19 response?
CD: One major concern that we do have is protecting our aid workers. None of this work is going to be accomplished if we don’t prioritize the safety and protection of those on the frontline, so that is something that we want to prioritize and make sure we invest in, that we educate our frontline workers about how they can protect themselves first before providing support to these communities.

MN: The urgency of this pandemic is particularly important, especially when the U.S. and Europe have to deal with the pandemic at the same time as those countries with weakened health systems. We need to save lives by acting right now. In that spirit, how can individuals at home make a difference?
CD: Donating is the best way for CARE to mobilize our humanitarian response to this crisis. To put this in perspective, $50 can support six families with a hand-washing station; $3 can provide soap for a household; and, $20 can support a health message poster for a community. We know that we have to move really fast before it’s too late so your gift will support CARE’s critical response to this global health emergency immediately.

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